ap psych study guides

🤔  Unit 5: Cognitive Psychology

👶  Unit 6: Developmental Psychology

🤪  Unit 7: Motivation, Emotion, & Personality

🛋  Unit 8: Clinical Psychology

7.4 Stress and Coping





⏱️  4 min read

written by

Mary Valdez

mary valdez

John Mohl

john mohl

Dalia Savy

dalia savy

November 11, 2020


Stress! We are all, unfortunately, familiar with the feeling of stress. When we experience certain events called stressors, we feel threatened or challenged, which, in turn, is stress.

When we are stressed, we could either have a physical reaction or an emotional reaction. Being stressed isn't always a negative feeling, though. If it's a short-term stressor, or a challenging one, we could easily overcome it, and it gives us a positive feeling or boost 🚀

An example of this, which you are probably familiar of, is when you are stressed for an exam. Being moderately stressed actually improves your performance (Yerkes-Dodson law), so in this case, it is a positive stress.


There are three main stressors in our lives:

  1. Catastrophes—unexpected events that we cannot control like floods, earthquakes, and war 🌋🌀🌊🌪️

  2. Significant Life Changes—Humans don't like change, so when major events occur and life transitions take place, we feel really stressed.

  3. Daily Hassles—If we don't take care of ourselves and manage our time, our daily schedule could cause us a lot of stress.

Stress could be very detrimental to our health, so it is important that we take care of ourselves 🛀💅

Responses to Stress

Fight or Flight Response

You are probably very familiar with this, but it is our stress response that involves the sympathetic nervous system and arouses us.

General Adaptation Syndrome

Psychologist Hans Selye came up with this stress response that has there phases:

  1. 🚨Alarm—Our sympathetic nervous system is activated and our body is ready to face the stressor.

  2. 🏃Resistance—We attempt to cope with the stressor. Our body is on high alert and stress hormones are released.

  3. 😴Exhaustion—We cannot be in high alert forever, so our body begins to be vulnerable.


Image Courtesy of Sanesco.

Dealing with Stress

There are two main ways of dealing with stress:

  1. Isolating oneself and withdrawing from society

  2. Tend and befriend response—communicating with others and supporting others 😍 Women often do this and like to bond because of high oxytocin levels. Men usually respond more aggressively to stress.

Lewin’s Motivation Conflict theory

Lewin took fight or flight but made it more complex and created different ways people address the stress causing conflict:

  1. 👍👍Approach-approach conflict: when you have to pick between two desirable outcomes.

  2. 👎👎Avoidance-avoidance conflict: when you have to pick between two undesirable outcomes .

  3. 👍👎Approach-avoidance conflict: when one event or goal has both an attractive and undesirable outcome.

  4. 🤷Multiple approach-avoidance conflict: must choose between two or more things that have both attractive and undesirable outcomes.

Stress related illnesses

Prolonged exposure to stress can cause stress-related illnesses like heart disease, cancer, a stroke, and chronic lung disease. These could also be called psychophysiological illnesses.


Cortisol is a hormone associated with stress. While small amounts give benefits in the short term, prolonged exposure can cause significant health problems. 

Unhealthy Behaviors

When people are stressed, sometimes they get into unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking🚬, drinking🍹, and consuming drugs.

Practice AP Questions

There are sooo many AP FRQs that include at least one phase of the general adaptation syndrome. Here are a few if you want to try them out:

Alarm Stage

The following question is part of #2 on the 2015 AP Psychology Exam.

Chandler and Alex were transferred to a new city and needed to find a new home 🏠 They carefully considered every house within their price range and finally purchased one that met all their criteria ✔️ (Part A questions)

One month before the move, Chandler and Alex asked friends to help them organize and pack their belongings. One week before the scheduled moving day, they learned that they needed to move out within 48 hours, so they quickly 💨 finished packing.

  • Explain how the alarm stage of general adaptation syndrome could be related to their moving process.

👉Scoring guidelines for this question

Resistance Stage

The following question is part of #2 on the 2017 AP Psychology Exam.

Sachio traveled to a prestigious college to audition for a music scholarship. After he arrived, he learned that his audition had been rescheduled for late in the day. Sachio was required to play several difficult pieces on his saxophone 🎷and interview with the judges. Just before leaving campus, he was offered a full scholarship to the college. Explain how the resistance phase of the general adaptation syndrome contributed to the success of Sachio's visit.

👉Scoring guidelines for this question

Exhaustion Stage

The following question is part of #2 on the 2018 AP Psychology Exam.

A survey was conducted to determine the state of the physical and psychological health of high school students. Some of the survey questions related to student stress levels and student absences due to illness. The data on these variables are displayed below.


Image Courtesy of College Board.

  1. What is the most appropriate conclusion that can be drawn based on the figure above?

  2. Explain how the data depicted in the graph are consistent with the exhaustion stage of the general adaptation syndrome.

  3. A researcher wants to conduct another study using the same variables, but wants to set it up as an experiment. Explain one reason that an institutional review board (IRB) might not approve this new study.

👉Scoring guidelines for this question

🎥 Watch: AP PsychologyStress

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